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What Is “Fundamental”
October 28, 2017 to January 22, 2018
Sponsored by the Fetzer Franklin Fund and The Peter & Patricia Gruber Foundation

Wandering Towards a Goal
How can mindless mathematical laws give rise to aims and intention?
December 2, 2016 to March 3, 2017
Contest Partner: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Fund.

Trick or Truth: The Mysterious Connection Between Physics and Mathematics
Contest Partners: Nanotronics Imaging, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, and The John Templeton Foundation
Media Partner: Scientific American


How Should Humanity Steer the Future?
January 9, 2014 - August 31, 2014
Contest Partners: Jaan Tallinn, The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, The John Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

It From Bit or Bit From It
March 25 - June 28, 2013
Contest Partners: The Gruber Foundation, J. Templeton Foundation, and Scientific American

Questioning the Foundations
Which of Our Basic Physical Assumptions Are Wrong?
May 24 - August 31, 2012
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, SubMeta, and Scientific American

Is Reality Digital or Analog?
November 2010 - February 2011
Contest Partners: The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation and Scientific American

What's Ultimately Possible in Physics?
May - October 2009
Contest Partners: Astrid and Bruce McWilliams

The Nature of Time
August - December 2008

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Valencia Xian: on 9/18/17 at 7:59am UTC, wrote happy to join your community, there are many useful and interesting...

Brent Pfister: on 6/6/14 at 17:57pm UTC, wrote What are the requirements or guiding principles for a new theory of...

Brent Pfister: on 6/2/14 at 2:33am UTC, wrote This thread continues at Peter Jacksons essay on May 29. Thanks, Brent

Peter Jackson: on 5/30/14 at 11:15am UTC, wrote Brent, Thanks for your post on my blog, but Wow!' Suggesting the...

Brent Pfister: on 5/29/14 at 23:56pm UTC, wrote Peter, thank you. Good luck! Brent

Brent Pfister: on 5/28/14 at 16:50pm UTC, wrote Judy, thank you very much. Genetic engineering is not needed on Earth, but...

Peter Jackson: on 5/28/14 at 14:22pm UTC, wrote Brent, Quick review; Einstein said Bohr's 'observer is part of the system'...

Peter Jackson: on 5/28/14 at 13:55pm UTC, wrote Brent, I saw no 'problems' worth marking down. Einstein said we "don't yet...


Eckard Blumschein: "Correction: I meant Huntsville, not Huntington." in The Nature of Time

Marcel-Marie LeBel: "“Existence” takes meaning from its logical opposite, nothingness. ..." in The Nature of Time

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Jyothi Matrimony: "I am really happy to say it’s an interesting post to read . I learn new..." in FQXi'ers Debate the Deep...

Joe Fisher: "Dear Dr. Kuhn, Today’s Closer To Truth Facebook page contained this..." in Thermo-Demonics

Joe Fisher: "Dear Anonymous, Every object that has ever existed has always had a..." in Thermo-Demonics

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Steve Dufourny: "If this aether is gravitational and correlated with this dark Energy,the..." in YouTube Video Lectures:...

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A devilish new framework of thermodynamics that focuses on how we observe information could help illuminate our understanding of probability and rewrite quantum theory.

Gravity's Residue
An unusual approach to unifying the laws of physics could solve Hawking's black-hole information paradox—and its predicted gravitational "memory effect" could be picked up by LIGO.

Could Mind Forge the Universe?
Objective reality, and the laws of physics themselves, emerge from our observations, according to a new framework that turns what we think of as fundamental on its head.

Dissolving Quantum Paradoxes
The impossibility of building a perfect clock could help explain away microscale weirdness.

Constructing a Theory of Life
An all-encompassing framework of physics could help to explain the evolution of consciousness, intelligence, and free will.

March 23, 2019

CATEGORY: How Should Humanity Steer the Future? Essay Contest (2014) [back]
TOPIC: Steering the Happy Path to Humanity’s Future by Brent Pfister [refresh]
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Author Brent Pfister wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 13:57 GMT
Essay Abstract

Humanity should steer the future with the goals of technological progress, comfortable living, protecting the biosphere, and long-term survival of intelligent life. How far humanity can go depends on laws of physics, how well and soon we can understand those laws and engineer solutions. The feasibility of breakthroughs in energy and interstellar travel determine what is possible. Advances in computing and genetic engineering shape the future along with many other technologies.

Author Bio

Brent Pfister is a software engineer and longtime fan of physics and science fiction living in the United States.

Download Essay PDF File

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James Dunn wrote on Apr. 29, 2014 @ 19:04 GMT
I had a similar thought several years ago and wrote a TIP proposal to

The concept is to broadly support the creation of physics resources and opportunities on a national scale.

In support of your Alternate Futures:

Weather Control System, Global Energy System, and low-cost space transportation

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 1, 2014 @ 16:49 GMT
James, thank you for your comments. Your paper gave similar reasons for needing new physics but focused on different topics. I will read some of your referenced papers to understand your ideas for emergent space time. One note, instantaneous processors and infinite memory systems will never be possible--see quant-ph/9908043.

You proposed that NIST catalog quantum entanglement properties...

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Georgina Woodward wrote on May. 1, 2014 @ 09:58 GMT
Hi Brent,

I wanted to let you know I have read your essay. You cover a lot of ground.I particularly like new techniques needed. The amplituhedron is a really interesting development I have not come across before. Thanks for the hyperlink. I think the many hyperlinks throughout are helpful. Also I like 6.5 Other Ideas. Q. How many people does it take to find a Higgs boson? A. billions. You make it sound so easy to get involved in science in various ways.

Quote:"Recommend discussing religion in a physics blog or presentation like in a modern scientific paper, rarely and respectfully." that is ambiguous. I think you mean: do not recommend discussing religion in a physics blog or presentation like in a modern scientific paper.

You wrote "Earth is currently paradise."A lot of people would disagree with you.

I hope you get more readers as there are a lot of good ideas in there worth sharing.

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 1, 2014 @ 20:56 GMT
Georgina, thank you for your comments.

The idea that it took billions of people to find the Higgs boson came from reading about how many people it takes to make a car. It takes the designers, the builders, the suppliers, the suppliers of suppliers, and all the people who buy the car. It is important that the general public feels involved in science even in areas where very few people...

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James Dunn wrote on May. 2, 2014 @ 20:41 GMT

Regarding: instantaneous processors and infinite memory not being possible

In any proof regarding observable physics momentum, force, energy, power ... are used as variables in demonstrating relationships that prove something. Relativity is based upon the speed of light and related relationship of meters/second, or space/time.

The problem with this is that all the...

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James Dunn replied on May. 2, 2014 @ 20:47 GMT
Brent, sorry

Read Arther Brent Phister :.)

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Joe Fisher wrote on May. 5, 2014 @ 16:46 GMT
Dear Mr. Pfister,

Your essay was extremely well written and meticulously organized and I do hope that it does well in the competition. I do have one minor quibble about it that I hope you will not mind me mentioning.

Reality is unique, once. Charts are not unique.



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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 6, 2014 @ 02:31 GMT
Mr. Fisher,

Thank you for your kind comments.

Regarding reality being unique, the Alternative Futures diagram on page 2 of my essay shows different possibilities which depend on many unknown factors. How will people deal with global warming? Are breakthroughs possible in energy and space travel? Can people achieve them in time? When will the next large natural disaster happen? We will experience a single path through the possibilities, a single reality. The diagram is not intended to show Multiverses, of Max Tegmark's level 1 or 3. If those multiverses exist, the people in them would face similar challenges. So would any alien civilizations in our universe. There is no evidence for or against multiverses, but if our universe is infinite, the level 1 multiverse seems likely. Later in the essay I refer to the level 2 multiverse, with different physical constants in each universe.

The essay evaluation criteria contains the words: relevant, interesting, optimistic, realistic. I strove to meet the criteria, but unfortunately my essay turned out to be upsetting in several ways. When I watched the Nova/Frontline show on global warming and energy, I was rolling around on the floor in agony, not thinking about how I would rate the show. After finals, I look forward to reading essays with more optimistic perspectives.

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Jayakar Johnson Joseph wrote on May. 6, 2014 @ 05:10 GMT
Dear Brent,

Most of the unsolved problems in physics is due to our perceptions on the fundamental nature of matter and its dynamics with the emergence of time; that restrains the developments in observational science.

As 'Steer' is the control in real-time, further developments in observational science with new technics may imply better environmental regulations to endure Humanity against catastrophes, in that massive use of solar panels and development of new technics on energy storage are the immediate priorities before the observational science reaches capability maturity to explore Nature more profoundly.

With best wishes,


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Vladimir Rogozhin wrote on May. 10, 2014 @ 09:15 GMT
Dear Brent,

Extremely deep analytical essays in the spirit of Cartesian doubt, optimism and deep knowledge of the problems of modern Humanity. Call for earthlings: "We start the path." We must find the will for the future of our children and grandchildren! Hope - our compass earth. Thank you for all links!

I invite you to my forum and my essay FQXi Essay 2012-2013.

I wish you good luck!

All the Best,


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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 17, 2014 @ 21:31 GMT
Thank you Vladimir. Good luck to you too!


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Author Brent Pfister wrote on May. 13, 2014 @ 03:50 GMT
Here are some notes on my essay.

One way I learned about FQXi was this great essay: Stardrives and Spinoza by Louis Crane. I wanted to write about it when discussing interstellar travel but was reluctant to include something that would take generations to build. But coupled with new physics discoveries, a black-hole powered stardrive might take much less time to build. Which other essays should I have referenced?


A friend commented on my essay that a whole population of 10,000 genetically engineered beings would need to be created for genetic diversity.

He liked my essay but wrote: "I feel like I was steered into a blind alley. Even though it was an interesting adventure, it might not have satisfied the essay's objective." In the abstract, one goal was long-term survival of intelligent life. I researched and wrote the essay mostly in chronological order, knowing in advance that eventually humans will need to leave Earth, the rest of the solar system is horrible for life, and interstellar travel requires new physics. But I did not know how hard it would be locating another Earth, that "habitable planets" are usually not habitable for humans, and there are limits to genetic engineering. Altering human DNA is almost always a bad idea in science fiction, but might be ethical for survival on another planet. We might eventually be able to decode building blocks of human and animal DNA. Even if we could decode alien animal DNA adapted for life on another planet, I think it would be a computationally intractable problem to combine human DNA with alien animal DNA. Even if it were possible, the results might not be as good as natural evolution. And unless a way is found for an intelligent species to not run into the carrying capacity limit of a planet, maybe the alien animals should just be left alone, and the ship should jump to the next planet.

This is an even more environmentally oriented conclusion than I planned. Humans are tied to Earth, and potential technological advances could allow surviving natural disasters but may not give us a second chance on another planet.

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Author Brent Pfister wrote on May. 15, 2014 @ 18:42 GMT
What would happen if a particle could be accelerated to planck energy? Would it lose all mass and go the speed of light, turn into a black hole, or neither?

My essay says: "I read special relativity is wrong; it does not take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object to the speed of light. Instead when a particle gains Planck energy, it loses all mass and goes the speed of light." I think that was in a Scientific American article about 10 years ago but I cannot find it. Somewhere else I recently read just after the big bang, all particles in the universe had planck energy and were massless.

From Scientific American May 2005 "Quantum Black Holes" Bernard J. Carr & Steven B. Giddings For a particle to be both energetic enough and compact enough to form a black hole, it must have the Planck energy.

stackexchange says an accelerated object would not turn into a black hole because only relativistic mass would increase.

Is the accelerated object related to a Planck particle? It is thought that such a particle would form a black hole, then would vanish in Hawking radiation.

Michio Kaku says space and time become unstable at planck energy. We must wait for a fully quantum mechanical theory of gravity to answer this question.

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Michael muteru wrote on May. 16, 2014 @ 13:48 GMT
hi brent

Nice work,With enhanced computing power humanity should start developing algorithms from nature,hence predict future physical events like weather hence be prepared for future,and avert high casualties.I propose the use of the kardashev cosmic scale for its far my essay LIVING IN THE SHADOWS OF THE SUN: REALITIES, PERILS ESCAPADES MAN, PLANET AND KARDASHEV SCALE.MAKING THE GREAT TRANSITION by Michael muteru.or weblink vote/review my essay.thanks.Wish you all the best

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 18, 2014 @ 00:47 GMT
Thanks Michael, wish you all the best too!


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John Brodix Merryman wrote on May. 18, 2014 @ 23:46 GMT

Keeping in mind that the earth and all its systems are a complex physical network, it will prove to be much more important to better understand what we have and what we are doing with it, before projecting very far out into space and the future.

For instance, we treat the financial medium as a profit mechanism and so the world's economy has evolved to create notational value, at the expense of any and all actual resources. While this is apparent to many, given Thomas Pikkity's recent book on capital in the 21st century is currently at the top of the best seller lists, the whole issue of the economic structure as a question for steering the future barely rates a mention in this contest.

It used to be that science was the provence of broad minded polymaths, yet today, the criteria is near obsessive focus and rather than using analytic skills to examine social functions, it seems the usual course for STEM professionals is to use their skills to further the destructive tendencies, such as by mathematically concocting ever more elaborately leveraged financial vehicles, or designing ever more effective war making devices on which public debt can be splurged and thus sustaining and growing the bubble of public debt, while extending the reach of this system ever further around the world.

When your generation reaches my age, it is safe to say many of these issues will return home to roost in an unavoidable fashion.


John Merryman

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 22, 2014 @ 15:05 GMT
(This post got lost somehow)


My essay does not focus on economics but mentions The Coming Generational Storm from 2004. It describes the combination of financial problems of deficit spending and rising costs for social security and health care that may cause a crisis after 2030. Other problems not mentioned are rising costs for energy and dealing with global warming.

Thomas Pikkity's "Capital in the 21st century" seems to be mostly about the financial system increasing income inequality which I agree is also a problem. If I were to read an economics book now, I might pick "The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future Of Our Economy, Energy, And Environment" by Chris Martenson.

I learned a very important lesson by thinking about space and the far future. Humanity is tied to Earth and problems with overpopulation and environment cannot be solved by going into space, but must be solved here.

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John Brodix Merryman replied on May. 24, 2014 @ 01:14 GMT

There is always a conflict of the generations. As I describe it, growing up is like grass trying to push through the concrete. Then one day, you wake up and you are the concrete and there is this damn grass trying to push you out of the way.

In my entry I start out with the dichotomy of energy and information and how energy manifests information, while information defines...

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Ajay Bhatla wrote on May. 20, 2014 @ 02:33 GMT

Finally got to your essay. And totally enjoyed the compendium you pulled together.

Very well said: "How far humanity can go depends on laws of physics, how well and soon can we understand those laws and engineer solutions."

I also totally agree with "... steer the future by many individual actions ..."

The only uncertainty I find is in who you mean when you use the word "we". Who is this "we"?

My essay, (here), if I understand yours, has the same basic points as yours. I however, define this 'we' as every person in the world simply because everyone is driven to better their own life, the lives of their families and communities. I look forward to your comments on my essay.

-- Ajay

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 22, 2014 @ 20:36 GMT
Ajay, thank you for your kind comments. "We" means physicists working to make discoveries, engineers who will make things to take advantage of those discoveries, and everyone who will benefit, which is hopefully all of humanity. I like the way your essay focuses on people in less developed regions using science to improve their lives.


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Luca Valeri wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 12:42 GMT
Dear Brent,

Thanks for your essay. I enjoyed the reading very much. Your love for science is very inspiring.

It is unusual, that in a scientific work someone resumes his influences. However for the question how to steer the future it seems imperative to do that and as far I could see you're the only one doing this. This fact alone imposes me to give you a high rating. (I can see you need a few more ratings to be eligible for the finals).

So my background is a hyper rational older brother and the fact that I still don't understand physics after so many years of trying. So in my essay I explore the question of how physics might be even possible and which are its boundary.



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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 23, 2014 @ 01:26 GMT
Luca, thank you very much. Those influences really shaped my thinking about the future and are more powerful than anything I could write.

Thank you,


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Author Brent Pfister wrote on May. 22, 2014 @ 16:04 GMT
My essay mentioned overpopulation four times but offered no solutions. Two friends said this needed to be addressed (they did not rate my essay). One friend wrote:

I personally think that population control is as important as anything in finding balance with the planet until humanity can expand outward. I think that this is difficult for people to talk about or accept but the "right to...

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Member Daniel Dewey wrote on May. 23, 2014 @ 14:22 GMT
Hi Brent,

Nice work! I especially like the diagram on page 5. It seems to me that among your suggestions for how individuals can help, the idea of supporting a cause--- especially political causes--- might be most promising; if enough people start caring about the long-term future, maybe more governmental energy could be directed toward it.

I've recently been hearing about the possibility of designing non-planetary habitats around the solar system--- apparently it would not be too difficult to create radiation shielding and gravity through spin, and it would be significantly easier to manufacture large amounts of living space from asteroids instead of terraforming Mars. It's not an area of expertise for me, but I thought you might be interested.

Good luck!


Daniel Dewey

Crucial Phenomena

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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 24, 2014 @ 16:34 GMT
Daniel, thank you! Spin would not provide radiation shielding, but the inside of an asteroid would. I just heard of a Dyson tree. But space is still very expensive and nothing beats Earth.

Good luck to you too!


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Author Brent Pfister wrote on May. 24, 2014 @ 20:38 GMT
My essay says new physics is needed possibly for energy, probably for stopping natural disasters, and certainly for interstellar travel. What are the chances of making another huge theoretical and technological breakthrough like quantum mechanics and electronics?

SLAC's mission statement hints a breakthrough is possible. This is the sentiment of many TV shows and books about physics.

Sean Caroll seems to say no when answering a question about what studying physics is good for.

Fermilab indicates there are benefits to particle physics even if there is no breakthrough.

Everyone agrees there is physics beyond the standard model and general relativity. I hope another surprise breakthrough is possible.

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Israel Perez wrote on May. 25, 2014 @ 00:18 GMT
Dear Brent

Just to let you know that I have read your essay. It is interesting and well written. You have made a comprehensive analysis and rightly elucidate that science and technology are crucial to solve the problems we have now. Even if that you are not an expert in physics, you grasp the fundamental ideas and focus your discussion on that part. As you realize there are many problems to solve and not many viable solutions. I see that most of your goals are similar to mine and I agree with your view. Hopefully, we humans could join forces to solve these complex problems.

Good luck in the contest!

Best Regards


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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 25, 2014 @ 15:36 GMT
Israel, thank you I really liked your essay too. Good luck in the contest!


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Peter Jackson wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 20:48 GMT

You just hit the top of my 'read' list and your 'error' message came up! What are the problems? I don't 'mark down' - unless I find one that's all utter drivel of course! At first glance it looked enticing.

As a Sci-fi fan you may like my allegorical first derivation of non-fiction QM!

I'll be back.


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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 00:13 GMT
Peter, my essay has several problems which are listed in my comments above.

I read your essay before but did not score it. I did not understand it enough to decide whether it seemed correct and was waiting for experts to decide later. But now I will re-read it and comment in your forum.



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Peter Jackson replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 13:55 GMT

I saw no 'problems' worth marking down. Einstein said we "don't yet understand 1,000th of 1% of what nature has revealed to us." Most are fumbling in the dark.

"there is physics beyond the standard model and general relativity. I hope another surprise breakthrough is possible." It surely is but not if mainstream physicists stay stuck in the current 'rut' of thinking methods.;...

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Peter Jackson replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 14:22 GMT

Quick review; Einstein said Bohr's 'observer is part of the system' was nonsense as it must mean Bob and Alice, parsecs apart could instantly 'change' each others findings (heads/tails) by changing their own 'detector setting'. Bohr agreed! but pointed out that's what's found! (alongside a curious 'cosine curve' distribution as their relative setting angles change (not actual but...

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Judy Nabb wrote on May. 27, 2014 @ 22:31 GMT
Dear Brent,

Your essay had a wonderful directness and naivety, a pleasure to read compared to some of the pretentious gobbledygook permeating right to the top. I couldn't find what you wanted to mark it down for, except you did loose a mark for only allowing long existence through genetic engineering! I discuss some of the issues there in my own essay.

I see Peters post above and certainly think you'll appreciate his essay as it seems the only one here actually offering a direction to steer and make progress with a great scientific advance, indeed the one you identify is needed, and self apparent. But I identify why present physicists simply won't depart from present beliefs.

If you need proof just study the conversations in the recent blog here on "Classical Spheres." One omission from your test of theories was the most popular and common technique of "comparison with prior beliefs", so another mark has to be taken from my bag and added as a bonus (three if you can make it happen!)

You also got a bonus for mentioning the embarrassing and crass complacency of the 'crackpot scale.' I do hope you make the cut.


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Author Brent Pfister replied on May. 28, 2014 @ 16:50 GMT
Judy, thank you very much. Genetic engineering is not needed on Earth, but may be needed to live on another planet. My essay describes the difficulty in finding another Earth and the much greater likelihood of finding "habitable" planets which require different DNA, like in Avatar. Even animals that lived on Earth in the past with twice the oxygen level might not be able to live on Earth today. My May 13 post above says more about genetic engineering.

Good catch on "comparison with prior beliefs". My essay should have said more about psychology.

I included the crackpot scale to make fun of myself and make the essay more entertaining. I also like quack and anti-crackpot index.

I actually like the top ranked essays that I have read and many of the other essays too.

Good luck in the contest!


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Author Brent Pfister wrote on Jun. 6, 2014 @ 17:57 GMT
What are the requirements or guiding principles for a new theory of physics? (This should be described in a textbook or web article but I have not been able to find it yet.)

A conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves. Noether's theorem states that there is a one-to-one correspondence between laws of conservation and differentiable symmetries of physical systems. The conservation of energy follows from the time-invariance of physical systems. The fact that physical systems behave the same regardless of how they are oriented in space gives rise to the conservation of angular momentum. Destruction of information conflicts with the law of energy conservation. Concentrations of mass energy, such as elementary particles, are stable only if a conservation law forbids their decay; examples include the conservation of electric charge and of baryon number (which, unless it is somehow violated, assures the stability of protons).

The theory should solve some of these unsolved physics problems.

The theory should be mathematically consistent, meaning it does not contain a logic contradiction and the result of a calculation is not infinity.

The theory should allow feasibly calculating predictions. This means there is no problem calculating because of NP computational complexity.

The theory satisfies the a-theorem.

The theory should satisfy this meta-theory.

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Valencia Xian Xian wrote on Sep. 18, 2017 @ 07:59 GMT
happy to join your community, there are many useful and interesting information!

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